by Marion Nestle
Mar 30 2010

Spoil alert: Jamie Oliver evaluated

TV is one thing but Jamie Oliver’s school intervention is over in real life and has already been evaluated in a study by researchers at West Virginia University.

They asked seven questions of 109 4th- and 5th-grade students, 35 teachers, 6 cooks, and the country food service director (Results):

1. Are the new menu items acceptable to the students?  Not much.  77% said they hated the food (but 66% said they tried new foods).

2. Do the new menus impact lunch participation? Yes, badly.  Participation decreased by 9%.

3. Does removal of flavored milk impact milk consumption?  Yes, milk consumption decreased by 25%.

4. How do teachers perceive the new menus?  Not too differently than they perceived the old ones, but they thought the new ones were more nutritious.

5. Do the new menus impact the workload for food service staff?  Yes, they didn’t like it that they had to work harder and longer, and they preferred their own food.

6. Do the new menus impact meal costs?  Yes, labor and ingredient costs were higher.

7. Do the new menus meet the federal and state nutrition guidelines?  Yes and no.  Fat and saturated fat were higher than USDA targets, sodium and fiber met guidelines, and vitamins and minerals exceeded targets.

So what to make of this?  Remember, this is reality TV, not a real school intervention.  Real ones start at the beginning of a semester, not in the middle, and are about food, not entertainment.   They also do not leave it up to the kids to decide what to eat.

I think it’s telling that the first question asked is whether kids like the food.  This assumes that liking food is independent of external influences like peer pressure and food marketing.

Since when do kids get to decide what’s best for them to eat?  Isn’t that an adult responsibility?

I’m more interested in knowing what happens in schools in that town after the TV crews are long gone.  If the programs are any indication, I think real changes will take place in the minds, hearts, and stomachs of participants and viewers.  Whether researchers can figure out how to capture those changes is another matter.

Addendum: Here’s the Associated Press story on the evaluation, which quotes me.

  • Amy

    I tried to institute a major shift in the food my family eats last fall. Essentially, I pulled a Jamie Oliver on them. I completely changed what I offered them all at once. I had two very unhappy preschoolers who went without dinner quite often because they wouldn’t eat the new healthy meal. I finally gave up and stopped forcing the new healthy food on my kids. Instead I kept eating healthy food and made food that my family would eat. But every time I serve my kids anything, I tell them whether what they are eating is healthy or unhealthy. It has taken months, but now they are coming around. Especially my 5 year old. She often will now ask me which is the healthy food (if she doesn’t know) and then chooses it. My happiest moment was just this past weekend. For dinner they had a choice between pizza (which my husband was eating) or salad (which I was eating). They both turned down pizza in favor of a big salad. 🙂

    The point is, as they are finding out in WV, it is difficult to force kids to eat something. I have found that it took educating them and modeling for them and now they are more likely to eat the healthy foods I have for them.

    I think modeling healthy eating is the biggest key though. Think about it… you don’t often see thin parents with overweight children.

  • Sheila

    Of course the kids didn’t eat it…they have been raised on JUNK food, both at home and at school. They have no idea what real food tastes like, even no idea how to eat it (i.e. can’t use a fork??!!!) Both the parents and the school have completely failed them, and Jamie cannot turn that around in short order.
    Yes, real food might cost a bit more, but the health care costs for people who eat well long-term are dramatically lower than the health care costs for people who routinely eat junk. I think we should tax junk food hugely to make up for the revenue needed to pay for the increased health care costs.
    Parents in this country need to wake up and decide they will quit pretending it is somebody else’s responsibility to raise their kids. Parents should be educating their kids about fresh real food, and should be role models for eating choices and exercise choices. When I see a town and school full of obese sedentary adults, I know exactly why the kids don’t like Jamie’s changes.

  • I agree. Children should not be given the choice of junk food and healthy food. Adults should be making the proper choices for them. If you want to see someone who is really making a difference in school lunch programs, check out Chef Ann Cooper (a.k.a. The Renegade Lunch Lady). The taste buds only have a memory of about two weeks. If you change what they eat, they will start to like and crave healthy food.

    And, yes, modeling is the best way to influence the family if they are not eating healthy from the beginning. I started my child from the beginning with making my own baby food. But my husband was a different story. However, as I cooked food that he thought he wouldn’t like, he would be surprised at the fact that he did like it. I never forced food on him. In fact, sometimes I would even tell him he probably won’t want any of what I was cooking (I little reverse psychology). After eating healthier, gradually changing his eating habits, he noticeably feels better. What he notices even more is how poor he feels after eating junk food now. Which, I admit, makes me feel great.

    Again, for kids, they key is offering healthy tasty choices, and not let junk even be an option. They’ll come around. They have no choice!

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  • Cathy Richards

    This is not an indictment of Jamie Oliver, it is an indictment of the flawed system and of the people that perpetuate it — actively or passively.

    As adults, we are responsible for protecting children’s rights. Here’s some notes on applied ethics from presentations I make on school food issues, based on the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child. I heard Eric Porcellato speak on how these rights apply to childhood obesity and adults’ moral/ethical responsibilities and adapted from him:

    -Children lack the critical cognitive capacities to rationalize and practice their rights
    -Adults therefore need to protect children’s rights
    -2 of children’s basic rights
    -The right to be Protected from Harm (unhealthy food causes them harm)
    -The right to an Open Future (obesity jeopardizes their future education, income, types of jobs [eg. fire fighter], quality of life, marriage, and of course health issues)
    -Adults protect children’s rights by:
    -Causing the right to be protected (not protecting the hindrances to children’s rights)
    -Allowing others to protect the right (not allowing others to hinder the right)
    -Adults include federal/provincial decision makers, food companies, city planners, advertisers, cooks, salespeople, tv executives, computer programmers, school staff, parents, etc.

    Our “right” to eat as we chose is fine — that is an autonomous decision that most adults are capable of making (although research is proving that the environment makes many autonomous decisions more difficult). But that does not give us the right to serve food to children — ‘because they like it’, ‘because it’s affordable’.

  • Cathy Richards

    Ooops, last sentence should say “unhealthy food”, not just “food”. 🙂

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